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The Famine Cottage, Slea Head Drive, Fahan, Ventry, Dingle, Co. Kerry. Tel: 066 9156241 Mobile: 087 7622617
WEB: www.faminecottage.com E-MAIL: trasnaigh@hotmail.com
Cottage and Sheepdog Trials
Now located in the Slea Head famine cottages are working sheepdog performances. Visitors can view a local sheep-farmer skilfully working his sheepdogs in gathering and controlling sheep movement. This skill has been handed down from generation to generation as sheep have been kept on the mountain (Mount Eagle) for hundreds of years. This is the only location in West Kerry offering such an attraction. Visitors are given valuable insights into the sheep-farmers way of working which intrigues most visitors.....how could local farmers forecast the weather long go, tell the time when many of the poor could not afford a watch or even how they managed to communicate with relatives living ten miles away.
It is hard to believe that, until recently, this cottage had been home to a number of visitors to the area. Some came here seeking a return to a simpler lifestyle, others such as photographers and writers seeking inspiration from this house and its surroundings. Now it lies empty, keeper of the untold secrets of its past, and a testament to the skill of the men who built it.
On a beautiful summers day, when the sun shines, one can feel the heartbreak the Kavanagh family must have felt when leaving this idyllic spot, heading for the Emigration Ships.
The Famine Cottage
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On the other hand, if you were here on a cold, blustery and wet winter's night you would appreciate how difficult it must have been for anybody to eke out a living on this mountainside. At times like these, emigration was a welcome option.
Old Irish Cot The Kavanagh Family Inside the Cottage Beehive Hut
Pictured above is the entrance to the beehive hut located at the rear of the cottage. This old stone hut is traditionally called "Puicín na Muice" and was used as a small shed to keep the family's pig.
The Famine Cottage
The cottage was built using mud and stone in the early 19th century. It originally consisted of two rooms and a loft. A ladder was used to gain access to the loft rather than the stairs, which was built later. A unique feature of this cottage is that it originally had a thatch roof. In 1860 the Earl of Cork had the roof changed to a slate roof making it one of the earliest slated cottages in the area. At this time the bedroom on the left was also added, causing the main doorway into the house being moved. The outline of the old doorway can still be seen. This turned out to be a relatively cheap exercise as the timberwork used on the roof came from a shipwreck ("raic"). Searching the base of the Dún Beag cliffs, opposite the cottage, for shipwrecked material was a common feature of the local people's daily lives. In fact there was a small narrow walkway leading down through the steep precipice to the base of the cliffs.
Unfortunately the Atlantic Ocean has now eroded much of this path. The outhouses or "Tigh na mBá" (cowhouse) and "An Stábla" (stable) to the left of the cottage were built in 1880. It is here that the farm animals were housed during the winter months. Previously the animals would be kept in the family dwelling house but as farm holdings increased due to emigration and the lacing of the penal laws it became feasible to add the outhouses. There is also an outhouse to the right rear of the Cottage used to house and protect the fowl of the farm. This was known as "cró na gcearc" (hen house). The rooms at the back of the cottage were built in 1910. Also at the rear of the Cottage is a large beehive hut that is at least 800 years old. During the era of the Famine a pig was kept within it's small confines. It hence earned the name "Puicín na muice" (pig's house).
Traditional Cooking

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Life on the Farm
The staple diet of the majority of West Kerry families at this time was the potato ("an práta"). Eight acres of two varieties of potato were grown at the time, one for the family and one for the animals. Animal manure ("oíleach") and seaweed ("feamaineach") were used as fertiliser. Those entrusted with the task of gathering the seaweed would have to rise when first tide went out as it was on a first come first served basis that the collection of the seaweed operated and other households were trying to get the natural fertiliser. The potatoes were set in the Spring. Using potatoes from the previous year's crop which had developed sprouts (known as "sciollháin") the future crop was planted in raised ridges known as "leaba phrátaí" (potato beds). When the stalk ("an gas") of the potato died in the Autumn this meant it was time to harvest the crop. The potatoes or spuds were then stored in a shallow hole covered with straw, during the winter months.

During the Famine years holdings were either too small or due to penal laws, Catholics would have to pay taxes to be allowed the privilege of owning farm animals. Later on though the milking of cows by hand was another daily chore to be undertaken. The stalls used to tie the cow during milking can be seen in "Tigh na mBá".

In the days before clocks and barometers, the only way of telling time or forecasting the weather was by looking at nature and the land. The Sun would give the inhabitants the best chance of telling time, as it rose above the prehistoric fort below the cottage at noon. It was harder again to forecast the weather, but a lot more important as it played a vital role in working the land or fishing the seas. By looking across Dingle Bay at South Kerry, if the villagers could see the houses on the opposite Peninsula clearly, they knew they were in for a rough stormy night. And if a cormorant, a seabird, was seen to fly high over the land and not the sea, it presaged a violent stormy night. At first sight of this bird, the inhabitants would gather wood, and water and settle down for the night.

Slea Head Views The Three Sisters Slea Head Views
Finding Water
The villagers of Fahan would have to draw water from a nearby stream, as there were no pumps or springs in the vicinity. However this stream was located 300 yards from the cottage. During the summer months the stream would periodically dry up. This meant that the residents of the cottage would have to go to the next nearest spring, which was located at the base of the Dún Beag cliffs. This was a particularly dangerous chore and was generally carried out by the women of the village.
The Hard Life
The generations of families who lived in this house had to endure extreme hardships especially during the Famine years. One family that lived in the cottage had an especially sad and tragic tale to tell. During the mid to late 1800's Mary Long's brother was living in the house. He and his wife had the bad fortune of having six of their children die at birth. Whether this was due to poor health and living conditions of the time is unknown.

However as none of the children had been baptized before death, the Catholic church would not allow them to be buried in a graveyard of the church. The parents had no choice but to bury all six children on their own land. They were all laid to rest just a few hundred yards from the cottage where a simple but crude stone cross marks their grave.
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The Famine Cottage, Slea Head Drive, Fahan, Ventry, Dingle, Co. Kerry. Tel: 066 9156241 Mobile: 087 7622617
E-MAIL: trasnaigh@hotmail.com

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